PHOENIX (CN) — The mayor of Phoenix asked President Donald Trump not to come to his city as planned next Tuesday for a political rally, saying it’s not the time for it while the “nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville.”
The unusual request from a big city mayor to a sitting president came amid reports that Trump may use the occasion to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling and arresting Latinos.
Phoenix, with 1.6 million people, is the fifth-largest city in the United States. It is the seat of Maricopa County, where Arpaio was sheriff for 24 years. Along with Tucson and Flagstaff, Phoenix is one of the few Democratic strongholds in a Republican state. Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, is serving his second term as mayor.
“If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation,” Stanton said in a statement.
Three Arizona congressmen on Thursday asked Trump not to pardon Arpaio. Congressmen Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva and Tom O’Halleran wrote they are “gravely concerned” to hear about the possible pardon.
“We believe public officials should be held accountable when they commit crimes and that the rule of the law should be applied fairly regardless of how powerful an office holder’s friends are,” they wrote to Trump on congressional letterhead. “By pardoning Mr. Arpaio, an early supporter of your campaign, you would be sending a clear message that your allies are immune from prosecution.”
Trump won Arizona by less than 4 percent of the vote. Those numbers were echoed in the largely Republican Maricopa County, home to Democratic-leaning Phoenix.
If Trump does not delay the rally, Stanton said, his focus will be on “keeping everyone —those attending the rally, those expressing their First Amendment rights outside and the general public — safe.”
Thousands are expected to descend upon downtown Phoenix to attend the rally or to protest the president’s appearance.
Police Chief Jeri Williams said her agency would be assisted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.
“While I won’t discuss specifics regarding our security planning, I want everyone to know that our preparations are well under way,” Williams said in a statement Thursday. “We will have maximum staffing during the visit and are working 24/7 with our partners to ensure all of our resources are in place.”
Trump is also expected to take jabs at Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake at the rally. Flake has been outspoken in his disapproval of the president, who tweeted his support Thursday for Kelli Ward, a Tea Party candidate running against Flake.
“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump wrote.
Flake made news this summer by publishing a book, “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle,” calling for a return to more civil political debate.
McCain has also publicly rebuked Trump, voting against a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, effectively tabling the matter, and calling him out by name this week for failing to denounce the white racists whose rally set off violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, during which a woman was killed and more than a dozen people injured.
“There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the United States should say so,” McCain tweeted on Tuesday.
The rally will be Trump’s first appearance in Arizona since he was elected. He came to the state seven times while a presidential candidate.